Things have been happening while I’ve been drowning in academia. Some of those things have been awesome. Some of them have been questionable. And some of them have just been sad. The sad is brought to you buy Ontario’s government, who’s spent the better part of 13 years taking sad to entirely new levels.
I won’t recap the far too many problems with the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), mostly because it’s already been done several times. And every time, there’s a new one to add to the list while the old ones are hauled out into the spotlight for the province to proudly announce that some day real soon, now, we’ll get it done. In this year’s edition of some day real soon, now, Ontario would like us to be thankful for an extra 18 bucks.
Ontario is increasing social assistance rates for people receiving support from Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
This fall, new rate increases announced in the 2016 Budget come into effect, including an additional:
•$25 per month for single adults receiving Ontario Works
•1.5 per cent for families receiving Ontario Works
•1.5 per cent for individuals with disabilities who receive ODSP.
The rate increases come into effect in September 2016 for ODSP and in October 2016 for Ontario Works.
Which, for those folks fortunate enough to be told they don’t need to rely on their parents to pay 95% of their rent, works out to a very impressive $16.65–which, in keeping with the spirit of generosity, the government rounds up to $18. A gold star moment, if you’re Helena Jaczek, who has some incredibly low standards to live down to in that department.
You might notice that the $18 we get on ODSP is slightly less than the $25 a single person walks away with if they’re on welfare instead. You would be forgiven for thinking that’s part of the problem. It’s not. A single person on welfare receives significantly less than a single person on ODSP, so the $25 actually works out to be slightly more effective than the $18 handed out to ODSP recipients. The problem is that in both cases, at the end of the day, the increase amounts to a very generous pile of not a whole lot.
Welfare isn’t designed to allow people to get away with not working. The intent of the system, the success of which can be debated for the next 20 years with absolutely nothing settled, is to be a temporary stopgap for people who’ve fallen on hard luck and need something to tide them over while they get themselves back to work. ODSP, however, is primarily for people who can’t work–or, at least, probably shouldn’t be working–because they have an actual, honest to goodness disability, and holding down a job just isn’t adviseable. There’s some debate over what constitutes a disability, but regardless, that’s what ODSP’s for. Secondarily to that, and something they could use to improve on, they’re there to help those disabled folks who can work to actually find something that vaguely resembles gainful employment. In either situation, the program is supposed to be there as a way for the disabled to gain some version of independence–to get their lives on track and, if at all possible, get to a point where they can be relatively productive. The program falls short, and has fallen short for years. The extra $18 doesn’t change that fact.
In 2009, there was a campaign put on by disability advocates and local politicians, encouraging regulators to do the math and determine if they could live on what was then the current going rate for welfare and ODSP payments. Members of the provincial legislature did so, and were surprised–surprised, they’ll tell you–to learn they very probably couldn’t. In 2010, I did a very basic version of that math based on what was then current information for both ODSP and Ontario’s minimum wage. I shared it with the provincial government, who wasn’t entirely all that interested in hearing it–or doing much about it at the time. In 2016, I did that math again. The result is a nearly $600 difference between what a person making minimum wage earns and what a person at the top end of ODSP earns ($1710 versus $1128). What this breaks down to is, based on a 37.5-hour work week, $11.40 per hour for a person earning minimum wage (as of October 1, 2016) versus $7.52 per hour for a person on ODSP. That’s factoring in the Ontario government’s extra $18.
The government’s all too happy to shout from the rooftops when they think they’ve hit on something that might buy them a few votes next year. And with the politically correct croud, being seen to be doing something for those poor disabled folks might just be enough to do it. But before they pat themselves on the back too much for their generosity, someone might want to point out to them that even relatively thrifty-minded disabled folks are still hitting food banks, or borrowing off parents who can’t afford to support two households, or foregoing groceries because paying for electricity in freaking December is just a bit more of a priority. Whoever replaces Helena Jaczek as minister of social services next year may want to put that on a post-it note in their office for the next time someone suggests congratulating themselves on squeezing out an extra $18. And Helena may want to dig up some better excuses than I’m used to receiving.